Sunday, March 24, 2013

Forty Creek Barrel Select Review

My last review, of Jefferson's 10 year rye, a sly Canadian, drew a bit of discussion over on Reddit, generally (as I did in my post) bemoaning the poor reputation of Canadian whisky (sometimes undeserved), and noting that there are some rising stars. One of these is John Hall, who makes Forty Creek, a newish distillery that has won much praise for their special releases, especially the Confederation Oak, which won Whisky Advocate's Canadian Whisky of the Year, with a stellar 95 point rating. It was, then, a nice coincidence that I found a 50mL bottle of Forty Creek Barrel Select on my weekend shopping rounds yesterday. Though no where near as highly regarded as the confederation oak, the incomparable Ralfy gave this bottling an 89/100.

This expression  is their basic entry, and the only one I can easily get my hands on. Bottled at 40% (ಠ__ಠ) this goes for around $23. This one apparently marries corn, rye and malt whiskies aged separately in barrels of varying char in order to allow the blender flexibility to produce the intended profile. An interesting approach, but I'm suspicious that like Irish or blended scotch that the good stuff gets extended with base whisky at this price point.

Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky 40% ABV ($23 for 750 mL)

Color: Light, more yellow than amber.

Nose: Butter, custard, vanilla (specifically vanilla yogurt), and caramel. Also dried pears, a touch of roasted nuts, and a subdued -but still present- grain/rubbing alcohol note. This latter is what usually steers me away from the Canadians, but it is faint here: overall a nice nose.

Palate: Gentle and sweet attack with noticeable malt influence. Starts off like Irish or a sweeter blended Scotch in this regard. Corn sweetness follows with only a small amount of rye spice. The alcohol is not very well controlled here and seems far higher than 40%. The palate is thin.

Finish: Noticeable spirity burn, then a lingering hint of the cheap vodka we drank in college. Maybe a touch of rye in there and a faint perfume note. Really falls apart here.

Final rating 82/100*

I really hoped for more out of this, and what is frustrating is that I can tell there is good whisky in here. I think the blending process went awry, leaving it to seem disjointed and not well-integrated. Also, there is just too much spirity heat, I'd guess from too much base whisky. I understand that this is $23 whiskey, but I'd far rather pay more and get more rather than have some really good stuff watered down with alcohol and water. Even at this price point I can think of many bourbons that thoroughly crush this spirit.

All of that said, I suspect that the upper-level offerings from Forty Creek are quite good, as this tastes like it has that potential. Further, based on the Jefferson's I last reviewed, it is clear that Alberta seriously knows what they are doing, and I'm told Wiser's does too. For these reasons, I will continue to have hope for Canadian, but will leave off drinking or reviewing Canadian whisky until these higher quality offerings are available to me.

*You may notice that I have begun to adopt the widely used, and widely controversial Robert Parker 50-100 rating system.  I was initially against this, and still think that it connotes an impossible level of precision, but since I have increased my involvement in the Reddit r/bourbon and r/worldwhisky fora (who like a rating) I have started. I also think that it is not a terrible way for a reader to get an idea of my comparative feelings about whiskies. I will note, however, that I try not to take price into account with the ratings to the extent that it is possible. However, I suspect I under-rate expensive stuff, because I really think it has no excuse when not stellar.


  1. You obviously don't like Canadian Whisky, so you shouldn't review it...plain and simple. It seems thatyou enjoy Bourbon and Scotch so it's best if you stick to reviewing them and only them. Leave Canadian Whisky to those who actually appreciate it and can speak with knowledge about it.

    1. As I mentioned in the post, I very much liked the Jefferson's 10, a Canadian. I also think my article was reasonably knowledgeable and balanced, and kinder than the Wiser's review as the latter is so much more expensive. Don't worry, though, until the Canadian whisky I see in the US improves, you will have no more reviews from me to fear as I'll not waste any more money on the stuff.

    2. Hey Ryan -- I actually picked up a bottle of this on a whim at my local store and I had almost the exact same thoughts as you point for point. There's a lot of potential here but like you said it kind of falls apart, especially at the end. What's your favorite whiskey in this price range by the way?

    3. A shame, isn't it? You can tell that there is some good whiskey in the blend. The $25 range is the most variable in my experience, but also where the best values are. I'd say my favorites are Weller 12, Elijah Criag 12 and Eagle Rare.

  2. Re. the use of Parker's grading system: There is a slim chance that his numbers are relevant to wine; there is zero chance that he knows anything about bourbon (can't even get their names right). My palate varies from day to day. Yours probably does too. A bourbon that might strike me as a "92" on one day could well be an "82" on another. I try to withhold judgment until I have consumed at least half the bottle. I would be much more impressed by the numbers if, tasted blind, the reviewer came up with the same number at least twice in a row. In addition, per your comments of OGD and BH, why would I ever pay twice as much for any bourbon that rated only slightly higher, if at all?

  3. Anonymous is right-- you shouldn't be reviewing Canadian whisky. When asked to name your favorite whisky in this price range, you listed 3 BOURBONS! Seriously?? An objective reviewer would compare apples to apples.

  4. Aren't bourbons whiskeys? Just saying... Whiskeys are the umbrella term with ryes bourbons and scotch being derived from such?